Stuck in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Ocean Navigator|July/August 2020

Stuck in the U.S. Virgin Islands
“You couldn’t have picked a better time to be living on your sailboat” seems to be the sentiment of many of our friends as they see pictures of us snorkeling the clear waters off St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many ways, a sailboat makes a great home for being isolated and self-sufficient.
Jayme Okma Lee

Aboard Sargo, our 46-foot Garcia Passoa aluminum sloop, we make our own power from the sun, we have a watermaker and we have plenty of shelf-stable food stores. As of today, I don’t think our kids have touched land in over three weeks, and they don’t seem to mind one bit!

Despite the many benefits of life afloat, however, it has been a stressful time. As outsiders, we are often subject to rules that make little sense and find ourselves as scapegoats for the fears and worries of the local residents. Recently, we had an unfortunate run-in with some local St. John residents that had us scrambling to find shelter late in the day. At 3:30 p.m., we, along with 30 other boats, were kicked out of our safe anchorage by the Virgin Islands’ Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) authorities.

This untimely eviction was not completely unexpected. When the Virgin Islands implemented a shelter-in-place order, we were lucky to be hunkered down in Hansen Bay, a remote area of St. John. For four weeks we enjoyed beautiful snorkeling, clear water and the companionship of two other family boats — safe and very isolated. We communicated diligently with many welcoming locals and heeded their requests for using our sewage holding tanks and emptying them three miles offshore, driving our dinghies at idle speed in the anchorage, and making sure our anchors were placed in sand so as to not harm seagrass and coral. We arranged for groceries to be delivered to the beach in order to minimize any potential for COVID-19 exposure. However, we were also harassed by a handful of locals. One woman living in a house overlooking the anchorage chased us down during a walk on the road and reprimanded us for crossing the beach. This, despite the fact that the governor of the Virgin Islands said that using the beach to access roads was allowed. An even more aggressive resident swam and paddle boarded from boat to boat every few days, telling people to “go back to where they came from.” He then blatantly disregarded the rules by sunbathing repeatedly on the closed beach.

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July/August 2020